Abarth 500e review: first of a new breed
Dinky EV provides plenty of sports appeal, while also looking the part
The new Abarth 500e will be a very welcome arrival if you’re fed up with big, bulky all-electric SUVs. It’s compact and not as cute as the electric Fiat 500 it’s based on, but instead comes with lots of design tweaks that give it archetypal Abarth sports appeal. There are bright and brash new colours, an updated ‘lightning-bolt’ Scorpion logo and plenty of cosmetic flourishes that make it a different proposition to the slightly more sterile Fiat 500.
However, much of Abarth’s appeal has always been the engine – or more precisely the noise it makes. The ICE part of this thinking might have gone, but Abarth’s engineers have done their best to make amends by incorporating a sound system – for both the inside and the outside. This bright idea does its best to recreate the excitement of a throaty old-school combustion engine, should you crave it over the relative serenity of all-electric propulsion.
The Abarth 500e comes with the same 42kWh battery as the Fiat one, but a bit of fettling helps to make this car more pocket-rocket than around-town shopping cart. You also get better suspension, which is more in tune with the attitude of the car.
There are two trim levels: the 500e Turismo being the car to go for if you want all of the trendy Abarth embellishments, and the Cabrio model for those wanting to roll back the canvas top and bring some of the great outdoors indoors. And boy, just look at those delicious 18in, diamond-cut Titanium Grey alloy wheels. Unfortunately, our really wet test drive took the edge off things and didn’t make for much in the way of drop-top action.
The little Abarth 500e is probably a very different machine in the dry when those dinky little Bridgestone Potenza’s get much more chance to show off just what it can do.
The Abarth 500e is a great thing to look at, with lots of subtle amendments to the original body shape that are accented really well by the bolder colours. The Acid Green-coloured example we tried really popped against the backdrop of stormy skies. On first glance, there’s not much that’s different compared to a ‘normal’ Fiat 500. Look a little closer though and the nuances start to shine through, starting with those neat, almost-eyebrows on the bonnet just above the headlights.
The bumpers are different and skirts along the side give the little car a purposeful stance, topped off with a contrasting white splitter on the front and a reworked diffuser at the back. Central to notifying people that you’re driving an Abarth is the cool use of the revised Scorpion logo, which sits high up just behind the door handles. The original style badge remains on the bonnet, while Abarth wording on the front and rear underlines the bold branding statement.
It’s completely different inside: there’s lots of blackness and a liberal use of Alcantara, with the top of the dash looking (and feeling) rather good with a splash of it in-between the plastic. The seats offer bucket-type reassurance if you plan on throwing the Abarth 500e around corners, while the steering wheel feels suitably special too, thanks to some more of the soft stuff treatment mixed with leather.
Considering this is an Abarth, there’s not too much that’s different in terms of getting ready for the off compared to a standard Fiat 500e. The drive options are lined up along the dash, but there’s a twist in that Abarth has provided three different drive modes, which are more in keeping with the sporty appeal of the brand.
Therefore, it’s possible to select Turismo, Scorpion Street as well as Scorpion Track modes if you want to mix things up a bit along the way. Unsurprisingly, Turismo is the more sensible of the trio and will conserve battery levels more effectively than the slightly more boisterous other two. Scorpion Street is great if you like to put a bit back into the battery as you drive thanks to its regenerative properties. Meanwhile, Scorpion Track makes a good bet if you enjoy the world of one-pedal driving that suits EV motoring so well.
As you’d expect from a car that’s just 3.6m long, the wheelbase means it’s quick and nimble, with twisting curves proving to be lots of fun, even in the wet. Hit any rough spots at lower speeds, or even at a higher pace and you’ll get your fair share of jolts from the beefier suspension and those low-profile Bridgestone Potenza tyres specially created for the car. Overall though, the Abarth 500e delivers exactly what is expected of it.
While the interior of the Abarth 500e is compact, it’s still got everything needed to make any journey complete. The landscape 10.25in touchscreen midway across the dash is perfectly suited to the car, with a very serviceable sat-nav and offering easy access to core infotainment functions, including wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 7in TFT digital dash has been nicely executed too, with crisp and clean graphics that tie in very nicely with the rest of the Abarth’s trendy stance. We thought the JBL sound system did well, especially when put up against the speaker output of that faux engine noise.
Talking of which, the Abarth Sound Generator is the thing that everyone will be keen to try from the off. It works to good effect overall, but is especially entertaining if you’re flitting around city streets or picking your way up through small villages in the hills. Granted, the Abarth 500e drives more like a go-cart, but use your right foot wisely and it is possible to milk some genuine fun from the audio accompaniment.
Spend any time on a bog-standard highway though and the constant, unfaltering hum of the sampled exhaust sound starts to grate somewhat. You can only switch it on or off when you’re at a standstill too and this option is hidden in a menu rather, than having a handy little button on the dash, which could have sported a little silencer icon or some such. Oh well.
Stuff Abarth 500e verdict
While we didn’t get to try the Abarth 500e on dry roads, which spoiled the overall effect a bit, this little electric car is still a lot of fun to drive. It’s perky rather than powerful, but the suspension has been set up perfectly to suit who’ll be driving the car and, if pushed, the Abarth 500e can provide plenty in the thrills department. Admittedly, the range isn’t huge, but it is ideal for what the car has been designed for.
Shorter journeys in it feel like a good excuse to have some fun, while a longer trek will require stops. Nevertheless, you’ll probably get some compliments while you’re parked up charging. Besides, the smaller battery means a fast charge from 0% to 80% takes a mere 35 minutes on average.
Elsewhere, the Abarth 500e requires a degree of compromise because even though it’s a great little car for dropping the kids off to school, there’s not much in the way of room in the back unless you’re driving alone. Putting the front passenger seat forwards does gain you a little bit of wiggle room, but the general vibe for back seat passengers is it’s fine but they wouldn’t want to go too far. Surprisingly, the boot isn’t bad, with enough room for a couple of smaller suitcases or a selection of shopping. Not really both though.
Other than that – it’s a fantastic little ball of fun.
It might be small but that’s just what makes the Abarth 500e such a fun little EV to get around town in
Abarth 500e technical specifications
|Motor||electric (front-wheel drive)|
|Cargo volume||185 litres|